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The Red Chamberby Pauline A. Chen
Synopses & Reviews
In this lyrical reimagining of the Chinese classic Dream of the Red Chamber, set against the breathtaking backdrop of eighteenth-century Beijing, the lives of three unforgettable women collide in the inner chambers of the Jia mansion. When orphaned Daiyu leaves her home in the provinces to take shelter with her cousins in the Capital, she is drawn into a world of opulent splendor, presided over by the ruthless, scheming Xifeng and the prim, repressed Baochai. As she learns the secrets behind their glittering façades, she finds herself entangled in a web of intrigue and hidden passions, reaching from the petty gossip of the servants’ quarters all the way to the Imperial Palace. When a political coup overthrows the emperor and plunges the once-mighty family into grinding poverty, each woman must choose between love and duty, friendship and survival.
In this dazzling debut, Pauline A. Chen draws the reader deep into the secret, exquisite world of the women’s quarters of an aristocratic household, where the burnish of wealth and refinement mask a harsher truth: marriageable girls are traded like chattel for the family’s advancement, and to choose to love is to risk everything.
“Bold and memorable....Chen retells and recreates in lush detail the daily life inside the Rongguo Mansion, where scandalous secrets and lies are hidden behind a grand façade.” Chicago Tribune
“Elegan...takes a long hard look at the complex interconnected desires, ambitions, and conventions that can bind a family together — or tear it apart.” The Daily Beast
“Chen’s adaptation boils down the original story to focus, in part, on that famous [love] triangle that just about everyone in China knows.” NPR
“All the reversals and treachery of a telenovela...moving, startling, and quite beautiful.” The Plain Dealer
“Offers a window into a foreign world....Chen’s framework provides a context for her characters’ actions, as often flawed as they are heroic, that makes things not just knowable but comprehensible.” The Denver Post
“A tangled past shapes a present rich with sex, violence, intrigue, guilt and jealousy....Here is clearly a work of love and a pleasing introduction to a novel — and a world — that Americans deserve to get to know.” The Columbus Dispatch
“Guaranteed to appeal to fans of Lisa See....From the mighty heights to the depths of poverty and despair, the significance of female relationships, friendships, and rivalries are at the forefront of this compelling glimpse into an exotic time and place.” Booklist
“The writing is supple and Chen often touches notes of emotional depth.” Kirkus Reviews
“Full of lavish details of the palace, sumptuous feasts, and day-to-day minutiae, levitating whispered conversations overheard by the wrong parties, capricious scheming between family members, and gossip hidden beneath every elegant tapestry and beaded pillow to lofted heights.” Publishers Weekly
“Fans of historical fiction who appreciate resonant details, unexpected intrigue, and multigenerational plotting will find this work irresistible...just the right blend of the highbrow literary and guilty summer pulp” Library Journal
In eighteenth-century China, the beautiful orphan Daiyu leaves her home in the provinces to seek shelter with her mother's family in Beijing. At Rongguo Mansion, she is drawn into a world of sumptuous feasts, silken robes, and sparkling jewels — as well as a complex web of secret rivalries and intrigues that threatens to trap her at every turn. When she falls in love with Baoyu, the family's brilliant, unpredictable heir, she finds the forces of the family and convention arrayed against her, and must risk everything to follow her heart.
Based on the epic Dream of the Red Chamber — one of the most famous love stories in Chinese literature — this novel recasts a timeless tale for Western audiences to discover.
About the Author
Pauline A. Chen earned her B.A. in classics from Harvard, her J.D. from Yale Law, and her Ph.D. in East Asian Studies from Princeton. She has taught Chinese language, literature, and film at the University of Minnesota and Oberlin College. She is also the author of the children’s novel Peiling and the Chicken-Fried Christmas.
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